Created By: DieHard on June 14, 2008
Nuked

Mary Sue (rewrite)

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Page Type:
Trope
"Twelve-Times-A-Day Man? You can't just start making up terrible new characters!"

Let's say you're reading through your favorite fanfiction website and one day, you decide to read some Harry Potter. New student joins the school, ho hum... wait, did Malfoy just step down after one snippy remark by her? That's not right... hey, you can't resurrect dead characters. That's against the established laws... did the Death Eaters all turn themselves in to the police after she had a talk with Voldemort? Who the hell is this character and why is the whole world bending to her will?

Congratulations, you've just met Mary Sue. Also known as Marty Stu, Gary Stu, or some other variant for the less common male versions, she is a very common but difficult to define phenomenon. Let's ignore the superficial traits (which can be found at Common Mary Sue Traits) and look at the underlying mechanics that work regardless of them.

The easiest way to describe this character type is as a black hole. Her gravity is so great, she draws all the attention and causes the characters (and, often, very reality) to bend and contort in order to accomodate her. Characters don't act natural around her, instead serving as plot enablers for her instead of regular people. She dominates every scene she is in, with most scenes without her serving only to give the characters a chance to "talk freely" about her (Where's Poochie?). Most people don't oppose her and anybody who does will either realize their fault in doing so or just prove easy to defeat.

The very laws of the universe bend to accomodate her. If there's only a one in a million chance she could succeed at something, she'll accomplish it with flying colors. If the logical outcome of the story would end in her failure, a Deus ex Machina (or just flat out Asspull) will insure her victory. Nothing is too implausible for Mary to accomplish, whether it be going from Rags to Royalty, killing a cosmic horror, or bringing about world peace.

This is fairly blatant Author Favoritism in effect, with the author using his or her effective position as God of the story to carry the character through by her slim, tender yet hard worked hands. In the rare cases when Mary fails, it will usually be a temporary setback that will either prove advantageous in the end or else just serve to hammer in the point of how special the character is. These failures can often involve just as much Deus ex Machina as her successes, setting up events that she logically shouldn't fail in.

As for Sue herself, she can vary quite widely. More often than not, she's a Flat Character that is mostly defined by her superficial (often heavily cliched) traits, but there are plenty of characters with huge amounts of honest-to-god Character Development that still fit due to the unlikeliness of the situations they find themselves persevering in and the unnatural attitude of the other characters surrounding them. The vast majority are idealized Author Avatars (usually of 14-year-old girls), existing as wish fulfillment for the author. However, the character need not be ideal or even attempt to be likable. Mostly as retaliation against the Mary Sue mold, a great many people are unintentionally still creating Mary Sues in function but not in form. These are usually referred to as Anti-Sue (similar to Anti-Hero).

Also, while it's hardly any sort of qualifier by itself, there is definitely a trend for a lot of Author Appeal to creep in to these characters in their appearance, skills, and personality. Highly fetished appearance, skills and capabilities the author wish they had, and other such things more often than not come up. Often, this is done to such a disproportionate effect that the other characters appear to be only the palest shadows next to her radiance. The more common ones, again, can be seen in Common Mary Sue Traits.

Mary Sue, more often than not, ends up as The Scrappy for everybody but the creator. People don't find sympathy in a character they can't relate to and end up bored at watching what is very obviously somebody else's fantasy being forcefully extracted like that last little bit of toothpaste. There's no drama because the conclusion is forgone, with it merely just being a matter of time and Purple Prose before it gets to it. It's like watching somebody else's family videos.

Mary Sue is a lot easier to point out in fanfiction due to the fact that The Verse is already established and the characters have been around, making it fairly easy to see when both are being bent to accomodate her. Far be it for entirely original fiction to not end up with these, however.

Mary Sue has existed for as long as there has been fiction. In fact, the character type is present in a great number of ancient mythologies, but is generally accepted due to how ancient they are. The actual term itself comes from the 1973 short story "A Trekkie's Tale", which was actually a parody of the extremely common Self-Insert Fic littering the early Star Trek fanfiction of the time. Since it was so accurate, the name caught on. It used to be limited to the Star Trek fandom and refer only to one particular brand (we shall call it Purity Sue, or "Mary Sue Classic", if you will), but with the advent of the internet, the term has migrated to all of fanfiction (and regular fiction, for that matter) and now refers to the type described in the preceding paragraphs.

The term itself has mutated significantly over time. A couple systems have popped up to classify Mary Sue characters, the most popular of which is the exclamation mark system. For example, a Perky Goth sorceress that is also a dragon might be labelled as Goth!Sorceress!Dragon!Sue. Alternatively, something might just be referred to as (insert biggest trait here)-Sue, but that doesn't allow for a whole lot of elements to be tacked on. Regardless, however, the term most often gets thrown as a catch-all insult against original characters, regardless of their actual status or importance within the story. One should keep in mind that a character with a fantastically improbable backstory, vaguely defined powers, and excessive amounts of beauty is just an unrealistic (and, most likely, unsympathetic) character. It isn't until the plot starts contorting to elevate this character to unnatural heights that she becomes a Mary Sue.

The following are the most common stock Mary Sue types based on their role in the story.

Please list examples in the appropriate article above. None on this page.

See also Common Mary Sue Traits for the superficial tropes that get involved in a lot of Mary Sue fiction, but are not immediately evocative of it. Also see Marty Stu, which looks at both this and Common Mary Sue Traits from a male perspective.
Community Feedback Replies: 32
  • June 9, 2008
    LordTNK
    I think the first part is a little much, and almost a generalization. Plus I there are a few points in the original article that this leaves out.

    The breakdown is nice though.
  • June 9, 2008
    UnknownTroper
    I also like the former text better. It's a lot less dense and gets the point across while also managing to be funny. This proposed text is way too dry. Also, don't use Mary, you must always say Mary Sue.
  • June 9, 2008
    DieHard
    The problem with the former text is the same problem that comes up with almost every other website detailing Mary Sue: it spends too much time on superficial traits that are only tangentially related to Mary Sue as far as the amateur writers are concerned. The article really needs to just get to the point without all the distraction and muddying of the original idea.

    As for being funny, I think that should only be a secondary goal, with explaining the trope clearly being the primary goal. Funny anecdotes and such can be added in as this article evolves, but one thing that should be kept is the clear, easy to follow explanation of this character type. Remember, people that don't know what Mary Sue is (or just think that they're all like Goddess Belldandy) might look this up and it would be of more benefit if they are just given a clear picture.

    I did, however, pretty much write Mary Sue Traits to be a total snark playground for everybody to enjoy, so I wouldn't see this as killing off the funny so much as just moving it to its own page.
  • June 10, 2008
    LordTNK
    "The article really needs to just get to the point without all the distraction and muddying of the original idea. "

    Well making the proposed text shorter would help.

    "As for being funny, I think that should only be a secondary goal, with explaining the trope clearly being the primary goal."

    Duh, but both goals should be met.
  • June 10, 2008
    alliterator
    Yeah, this seems like a Wall Of Text without jokes.
  • June 10, 2008
    Janitor
    Yes, a little wordy in the opening. Here's an edit of first few graphs ...
    What makes a Mary Sue? Never mind appearance, personality, or capabilities. Those are just Mary Sue Traits. Let's get at the underlying mechanics.

    The character is a black hole. Her gravity is so great she draws in all attention and causes other characters (and often reality) to bend and contort in order to accommodate her. All action that doesn't involve her involves other characters talking about her. Those who confront her will devolve into textbook Straw Men, serving only to provide an easily refuted argument.
  • June 10, 2008
    Scooter007
    Don't forget to link Anti Sue to Suetiful All Along.
  • June 10, 2008
    DieHard
    I slimmed it down some more. I'm not very good at comedic writing, so it's probably still fairly dry.
  • June 10, 2008
    Tzintzuntzan
    The rewrite seems designed for somebody who has heard various definitions of "Mary Sue" and wants to know which is correct. It is not designed for someone who has never heard the term before, or never heard the definition. I know that if I had never heard the term, that article would leave me totally lost as to what it was about at all. Janitor's rewrite improves it, but it's still a bit hard for someone who has never heard the term.

    Before saying "everyone has heard the term," no they haven't. This wiki's principle is to explain every term as if the reader was learning it afresh, even for things as well known as Monster Of The Week or Mc Guffin.
  • June 10, 2008
    alliterator
    How's this for an opening to the article:

    Say that you're a reader of fanfiction and one day, you decide to peruse some new Buffy The Vampire Slayer story. This one seems well written and look, it includes your favorite 'ship. But wait, who's that? You don't recognize that character. Green hair, multicolored eyes, and...wait, what? She's Buffy's daughter? And Spike's true love? And a half-Slayer, half-vampire, half-witch? That's one half too many!

    Congratulations, you've just met your first Mary Sue.
  • June 10, 2008
    DieHard
    That suggests that she's a Mary Sue for her blatantly out of place, ostentatious nature with an improbable backstory, not because the plot is bending over backwards to accommodate her. As an alternative, how about this (I'm not that familiar with Buffy, so I just used a canon I am familiar with):

    Let's say you're reading through your favorite fanfiction website and one day, you decide to read some Harry Potter. New student joins the school, ho hum... wait, did Malfoy just step down after one snippy remark by her? That's not right... hey, you can't resurrect dead characters. That's against the established laws... did the Death Eaters all turn themselves in to the police after she had a talk with Voldemort? Who the hell is this character and why is the whole world bending to her will?

    Congratulations, you've just met Mary Sue.
  • June 10, 2008
    alliterator
    Heh. Man, I've encountered so many Buffy sues, I parodied them.
  • June 10, 2008
    DieHard
    In response to Tzintzuntzan, Mary Sue is already such a huge, all-inclusive, and vaguely defined trope that regardless what original source you read, it still won't quite click until reading examples of them. First time I heard the term was as a descriptor of Prishe in Final Fantasy XI: Chains of Promathia and just assumed it referred to stupidly over the top characters with too much sparkly that have too damn much screentime, not because the whole plot of that expansion bent over backwards for her. I think this explains the undeniable traits fairly clearly.
  • June 10, 2008
    Clerval
    There seems to be a trend for focusing away from physical characteristics in Mary Sue. While I do agree there is much to be said for this - it is, indeed about the gravitational warp the character exerts rather than mere appearance that makes a Mary Sue - still I do think the highly fetishised appearance should be mentioned. You can be a Mary Sue without Kaleidoscope Eyes and billowing hair, but those characteristics are disproportionately common among MarySues. Often unearthly beauty is still the only concrete trait the Mary Sue has.

    Also perhaps there should be something to the effect that protagonists are often special, good-looking, and more significant than other characters (or they wouldn't be protagonists), but Mary Sue is what happens when all that collapses in on itself.
  • June 10, 2008
    LordTNK
    BTW, the best example of a Mary Sue by gravitation over traits, is likely the Trope Namer fic, "A Trekkie's Tale", which oddly enough was a parody of them (and it was written in 1973; shows how long Mary Sue has been around).
  • June 10, 2008
    DieHard
    I added the following in:

    Also, while it's hardly any sort of qualifier by itself, there is definitely a trend for a lot of Author Appeal to creep in to these characters in their appearance, skills, and personality. Highly fetished appearance, skills and capabilities the author wish they had, and other such things more often than not come up. Often, this is done to such a disproportionate effect that the other characters appear to be only the palest shadows next to her radiance. The more common ones, again, can be seen in Mary Sue Traits.
  • June 10, 2008
    Clerval
    Oh, s/he's been around FOREVER, long before the name. Does this sound familiar?

    "Her eyes and her wit are both dazzling; her nose and her morals are alike free from any tendency to irregularity; she has a superb contralto and a superb intellect; she is perfectly well-dressed and perfectly religious; she dances like a sylph, and reads the Bible in the original tongues... ... Rakish men either bite their lips in impotent confusion at her repartees, or are touched to penitence by her reproofs... In her recorded conversations she is amazingly eloquent, and in her unrecorded conversations, amazingly witty. She is under stood to have a depth of insight that looks through and through the shallow theories of philosophers, and her superior instincts are a sort of dial by which men have only to set their clocks and watches, and all will go well."

    It's from the essay Silly Novels by Silly Lady Novelists by George Eliot in 1856.

    EDIT: Oh, didn't see your reply, Die Hard. Well, that works for me.
  • June 10, 2008
    LordTNK
  • June 10, 2008
    Karalora
    An alternate name for Villain Sue is Mary Sue De Vil.
  • June 10, 2008
    arromdee
  • June 10, 2008
    Scooter007
    Just For Pun, I propose changing Anti Sue to Counter Sue.
  • June 10, 2008
    Clerval
    Oh,yes, I linked to 19th C essay because that's the earliest I've seen Mary Sue described. As for the trope itself, I would almost go as far as to say Mary Sue was here first.
  • June 10, 2008
    alliterator
    Dude, Jesus was a Mary Sue. A direct relative of the main character of the first book, warping everyone's characters to suit his own purpose (come on, Judas? Yeah, like he'd ever betray someone) and, oh yeah, sacrificing himself and coming back to life. Total Sue!

    Just kidding!
  • June 10, 2008
    Clerval
    Well, the Virgin Mary is an important-but-minor figure in the gospels, but the apocrypha and traditional stories about her? "Mary of the Immaculate Conception", "Queen of Heaven" "Star of the Sea"? ...Come on.

  • June 11, 2008
    LordTNK
    Jesus to Mary Sue: "Back off, poser!"
  • June 12, 2008
    Pteryx
    I like the new description, but think the subtypes should only be linked, not described in the main article.
  • June 15, 2008
    DieHard
    I can start the rewrites tomorrow.
  • June 15, 2008
    pawsplay
    I'm a Mary Sue purist. To me, Mary Sue is a fanfic or genre pastiche self-insertion. Not merely an overly competent, overly cool character, also known as "an action hero protagonist."

  • June 15, 2008
    UnknownTroper
    The Anti Sue description somehow reminds me of You Suck.
  • June 17, 2008
    Black Charizard
    One should keep in mind that a character with a fantastically improbable backstory, vaguely defined powers, and excessive amounts of beauty is just an unrealistic (and, most likely, unsympathetic) character. It isn't until the plot starts contorting to elevate this character to unnatural heights that she becomes a Mary Sue.

    Well, this means we'll have to do some major cleanup of the Canon Sue article, because several examples claim that so-and-so is a Sue because of angsty pasts, being very powerful, or some combination of Common Mary Sue Traits. Maybe the article should mention other definitions of Mary Sue? Then again, Canon Sue needed a cleanup or a split anyway...
  • June 17, 2008
    DieHard
    I've been culling all the examples that don't really explain anything about how the plot or other characters react to them as I filter as many examples as I can to their appropriate articles. I'll make a large repository of tentative examples that need a look over by people actually familiar with the canons.
  • June 17, 2008
    pawsplay
    A Canon Sue is, to me, a character who is actively destructive to the narrative in the same way we are talking about Mary Sue above. Merely being an inflated character in a bad book is not good enough. Canon implies conintuity, and in this case, tainted continuity.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=ry5is3kb&trope=MarySue